Communication between men and women is one of the most important things in the world – perhaps the most important thing, since without it, none of us would be here! So why is it that so many of us, both women and men, find it so difficult? Perhaps it comes from a fundamental lack of understanding of how the communication styles of men and women differ.
Women communicate by sharing. They love to open up emotionally and communicate how they’re feeling, whether positive or negative. When women socialize with each other, they have an emotional free-for-all, in which they show appreciation for each other by listening to each other’s emotional outpours. Women instinctively understand that the most important thing to do when communicating with another woman is to show empathy for how she feels, to share her feelings with her.Men, however, love to fix things. They are hard-wired for solving problems. If confronted with something going wrong, they tend to obsess over it until they figure out how to make the problem go away. They are hardwired for doing things, not feeling things. In fact, since feeling things often gets in the way of doing things, men have been encouraged from a young age not to feel too much of anything. Therefore, men’s communication style is geared towards detail and “getting things done,” because this is how they prove their worth both as a mate and to other men.
So, what happens when men and women, who are generally coming from vastly different communication styles, try to have a conversation, let alone a relationship?
A fundamental disconnect happens. Here’s how it goes: let’s say John and Annie are a cohabitating couple and they’re discussing their relationship.
Annie, being an empathic communicator, starts to gush about her feelings about the relationship, without much self-censoring. She lets out her feelings and emotions, both positive and negative, expecting John simply to empathize. When she talks negatively, she may not be criticizing John directly, she is simply telling him how she feels.
John, who wants to be the perfect mate, is listening intently with one thing on his mind: whatever is going wrong for Annie, he wants to fix it, because he wants to do everything right for her. So what happens is that he fixates on the negative things that Annie says and immediately suggests ways to “fix the problem.”
Annie, however, didn’t want that. Annie just wanted John to empathize with the problem, not to try and fix it. So, in a rage, she blurts out: “You’re not listening to me!”
Now John is crestfallen, because, well, he actually was listening, and what’s more, he was trying to help, which apparently wasn’t appreciated. Communications break down – neither party has understood the other.
So, what just happened? Even though both people are trying their absolute best, the messages that have inadvertently been sent are that John doesn’t respect Annie’s emotions, and Annie doesn’t respect John’s ability to solve problems, both of which are crucial to their individual identities and senses of self-esteem.
If both John and Annie understood each other’s communication styles, they would each be able to stop mistaking each other’s words and actions for personal attacks. John could learn to listen patiently and empathize with Annie while she spoke, and Annie could learn to understand John’s non-emotionality as part of his identity, and instead of thinking that he is shut down to her, value and appreciate his offers of help or sharing of expertise as his way of showing love.
Just a little understanding and patience can go a long way in overcoming communication barriers.
How are you communicating with your partner?